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RE: SOCW6333: Discussion to 2 Students – Personal Factors (wk3)

Respond by to at least two of your colleagues’ postings. Be sure to respond to a colleague who chose at least one different setting than you did. Respond in one or more of the following ways:

  • Ask a probing question.
  • Share an insight from having read your colleague’s posting.
  • Offer and support an opinion.
  • Make a suggestion.
  • Expand on your colleague’s posting.


Response to Nicole Kehller

Strategies for Vicarious Trauma

Harrison and Westwood (2009) defined vicarious trauma (VT), “as the cumulative transformative effects upon therapists resulting from empathic engagement with traumatized clients” (p. 203). Social workers/clinicians who experience VT will suffer physical, emotional and/or psychological symptoms after hearing traumatizing stories/events from clients. Researchers purposed a strategy to counteract the effects of VT, having weekly case conferences or supports groups so that clinicians working with trauma survivors can counter any isolation issues, to provide support and to normalize reactions and feelings of helping professionals (Harrison & Westwood, 2009). Another strategy is that social workers must find a work-life balance, speak with their supervisor regularly about caseloads and expectations within the position or agency (Harrison & Westwood, 2009).

Another strategy besides communicating with other professionals is to identify coping skills. Harker, Pidgeon, Klaassen and King (2016) reported that mindfulness, which is the act of awareness to internal thoughts with acceptance, was positively correlated with work satisfaction. Some activities social workers experiencing VT can do to help treat their symptoms are to identify enjoyable activities, create realistic expectations for oneself and acknowledge the ways trauma work has touched the individuals’ life in a positive way (Harrison & Westwood, 2009). Finding satisfaction within oneself is almost like a protective shield against VT, burnout and/or secondary trauma (Harker et al., 2016).

Untreated VT and Ethical Obligations

Social workers who continue working with untreated VT are creating a disservice to both clients/providers and an ethical problem because the health of the community is not being appropriately addressed (Harrison & Westwood, 2009). Untreated VT has the potential to increase countertransference during sessions which is problematic for all parties (Harrison & Westwood, 2009). Iqbal (2015) reported that untreated VT will change the clinician’s perception of self, the world and others and this is a huge ethical issue in terms of the social work practice. Blurring boundaries is another symptom of untreated VT which is damaging to therapeutic relationships and may be considered misconduct in practice (Iqbal, 2015).


Harker, R., Pidgeon, A. M., Klaassen, F., & King, S. (2016). Exploring resilience and

mindfulness as preventative factors for psychological distress burnout and secondary traumatic stress among human service professionals. Work: Journal Of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 54(3), 631-637. doi:10.3233/WOR-162311

Harrison, R. L., & Westwood, M. J. (2009). Preventing vicarious traumatization of mental health

therapists: Identifying protective practices. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 46(2), 203–219.…

Iqbal, A. (2015). The ethical considerations of counselling psychologists working with trauma: Is

there a risk of vicarious traumatisation?. Counselling Psychology Review, 30(1), 44-51.

Response to Nicole Cunningham

An explanation of the strategies you might employ as a helping professional when dealing with vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma is something that affects almost all of those who work with traumatized victims for any length of time (Iqbal, 2015; Miller & Sprang, 2017). There are many strategies that can be used when you are dealing with vicarious trauma once it is recognized (Ludick & Figley, 2017; Miller & Sprang, 2017). One of the first things that has to be done is the practitioner needs to recognize that they are having symptoms and acknowledge those feelings (Miller & Sprang, 2017). By giving those feelings a “voice” and not ignoring the issues you are having, you are in a better position to then begin dealing with vicarious trauma (Miller & Sprang, 2017). Miller & Sprang (2017), Morrissette (2004), and Harker, Pidgeon, Klaassen, & King (2016) all recommend developing practices of mindfulness and resilience through such things as connecting with support systems, practicing self-care, taking mental health days or focused vacations, balancing your workload, and living an active lifestyle. Additionally, Miller & Sprang (2017) state that “acquiring empathy with intention” is critical. We have to recognize that the exposure to other people’s trauma can cause us to experience the same issues and although we need to listen and be empathic, we should be careful about internalizing the trauma as much as possible. Supervisors and peers should watch out for their colleagues as well (Peled-Avram, 2017). We have to have a good enough working relationship with others to reach out when we are feeling overwhelmed and be secure in the knowledge that we have the support we might need when doing so.

Personally, one of the things that I do when I start to feel symptoms of being overwhelmed, compassion fatigue, or burnout, is to take a hike. That small amount of time in nature, alone with my thoughts and the physical activity, really helps to re-center me and helps me practice mindfulness. I have also started meditating in the evenings for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, and I like to listen to motivational YouTube videos in the morning as I am getting ready for work. Although I do not work with many traumatized victims as I have in the past, I find that this helps me deal with some of the residual effects of when I did.

Explain how helping professionals with untreated vicarious trauma might impact their work with clients and client systems.

When an individual does not deal with their symptoms of vicarious trauma, it can begin to affect their work and the way they interact with clients. Vicarious trauma can make you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, emotionally numb, cynical, and feeling like you are a failure (Morrissette, 2004). This can be projected onto the clients that you are trying to help, making them feel less connected to you, and thereby causing them more harm (Iqbal, 2015). It can also cause your work to suffer since you will not be making the best decision with your clients and will reduce your ability to effectively communicate with them or treat them with empathy (Iqbal, 2015; Morrissette, 2004).

Include an explanation of your ethical obligations to deal with your own vicarious trauma.

We have an ethical obligation to deal with our vicarious trauma, or budding vicarious trauma, since we should always strive to provide the best care for those who come to us for help. We cannot do that if we, ourselves, are not in a good place, but being aware of our own needs and potential issues can help us be more competent practitioners (Iqbal, 2015).


Harker, R., Pidgeon, A. M., Klaassen, F., & King, S. (2016). Exploring resilience and mindfulness as preventative factors for psychological distress burnout and secondary traumatic stress among human service professionals. Work: Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 54(3), 631-637. doi:10.3233/WOR-162311

Iqbal, A. (2015). The ethical considerations of counselling psychologists working with trauma: Is there a risk of vicarious traumatisation?. Counselling Psychology Review, 30(1), 44-51.

Ludick, M., & Figley, C. R. (2017). Toward a mechanism for secondary trauma induction and reduction: Reimagining a theory of secondary traumatic stress. Traumatology, 23(1), 112-123. doi:10.1037/trm0000096

Miller, B., & Sprang, G. (2017). A components-based practice and supervision model for reducing compassion fatigue by affecting clinician experience. Traumatology, 23(2), 153-164. doi:10.1037/trm0000058Traumatology, 23(1), 112-123. doi:10.1037/trm0000096

Morrissette, P. J. (2004). The pain of helping: Psychological injury of helping professionals. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Peled-Avram, M. (2017). The role of relational-oriented supervision and personal and work-related factors in the development of vicarious traumatization. Clinical Social Work Journal, 45(1), 22-33. doi:10.1007/s10615-015-0573-y

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